Yale students have a strange habit of disenfranchising themselves. We register to vote, but we can’t bother to go to the polls on Election Day. Only 129 of 850 eligible voters turned out for the Democratic primaries in Yale-dominated Ward One; among students in Ward 22, participation was less dismal, but still not encouraging. We appear to care greatly about every issue from gay rights to statehood for Palestine, but while we are willing to attend all the meetings in the world, few of us ever make the trip down to City Hall.
In this context, Dan Kruger’s challenge to incumbent Ward One Alderman Ben Healey is especially disturbing: while cloaking himself in an unproven mantle of accountability, Kruger both misrepresents Healey’s commitment to his constituents and encourages students to limit the extent of their real involvement in the city. It’s a combination that is dangerous for progress, for New Haven, and for Yale.
Thus far, Kruger’s main efforts to distinguish himself from Healey have been a series of complaints about Healey’s record of constituent service. In some cases, his allegations are purely general, but when Kruger criticizes Healey on specific issues, he comes dangerously close to the edges of the truth. To take one example, the Yale Daily News reported on Sept. 17 (“Aldermanic hopefuls spar over strike”) that during the debate between the two candidates, “Kruger said Healey had failed to effectively mobilize student support for gay rights during his tenure,” in reference to the Domestic Partnership Amendment that Healey championed last spring.
As one of the organizers (student and nonstudent) who Healey consulted extensively before the hearing on the amendment, I know that Kruger’s statement is not a responsible portrayal of Healey’s efforts. But more importantly, Healey provided instrumental support to me and to the other founders of Project Orange, the coalition group that sent scores of e-mails, hung hundreds of posters, and rallied close to 500 students and New Haven residents at City Hall in support of the amendment.
In the tense six weeks between the initial hearing and the final vote on the amendment, Healey answered our questions about the nuances of New Haven politics, helped facilitate our lobbying efforts, and worked tirelessly to build and repair a coalition of aldermen battered by intense attacks from a well-funded opposition. He even attended (and continues to attend) our weekly meetings, not to dictate to us, but as a resource and a valued member of our organization.
To argue that Healey’s efforts were insufficient because he did not send an e-mail or newsletter about the amendment to every resident of Ward One is patently ridiculous. Instead of simply informing students and leaving them to feel outraged but remain complacent, Healey helped mobilize and empower a strong community movement that continues to fight for gay rights in New Haven.
Kruger’s plans to enfranchise Ward One voters by informing them about New Haven issues via newsletter seem a rather weak substitute for Healey’s efforts. He has registered large numbers of students to vote during his time in office and has introduced students to the city and then driven them to deeply investigate New Haven for themselves so they can draw their own conclusions and find their own places in city politics.
Additionally, if Kruger wants to truly empower the student body to get involved in New Haven, he will need to recreate the relationships with the Board of Alderman and other figures in city politics that Healey has been building for more than two years. Kruger’s identification of Bruce Alexander, a member of the Yale administration, as one of the people he most looks forward to working with if elected shows that his commitment to the city quickly fades beyond the confines of Yale’s Gothic towers.
This attitude will make it almost impossible for Kruger to do any productive coalition-building with the other members of the Board of Aldermen. Healey’s understanding and articulation of the ways that Yale and New Haven must work together as equal partners to ensure the well-being of both have made it possible for him to be a truly effective alderman. If Kruger decides that his role as our representative is to defend Yale from the attacks of the Big Bad City, he will find his reception on the board chilly indeed. There is nothing enfranchising or representative about an elected official who writes his constituents e-mail but is unable to do anything to advocate for their interests.
In other words, if you care about the Domestic Partnership Amendment, clean air, bike paths, safer neighborhoods, and a revitalized downtown, think carefully. A newsletter is no substitute for hard work in the service of progressive change. And Dan Kruger is no Ben Healey.
Alyssa Rosenberg is a sophomore in Silliman College. She is the founder of Project Orange.